Medtronic is the world’s largest stand-alone medical technology company with a global reach that extends to 120 countries, 45,000 employees, and includes net sales of over $16 billion for the 2012 period. Knowing only this about them, we can already begin to understand what kind of leaders they insist on having in their organisation to help maintain market position and their current levels of growth and development.
Mike Howe-Ely is one of these leaders.
As the Regional Director of Medtronic Africa, his primary function and goal is alleviating pain, restoring health and extending life for millions of people here on the African continent. How does he achieve this? He says that it is through his management team that he is able to do so, a management team he regards as “the best team in the industry.”
And it seems they must be because Medtronic was selected as the 2012 best company in South Africa to work for in the Chemical & Pharmaceutical Industry Category, and 3rd in the Small Company Size Category, by Deloitte in their Best Company to Work For Survey.
In response to this, Howe-Ely says: “We are extremely proud of this recognition. It is the result of all our efforts to invest in employees through development programmes that allows us to attract top talent, to whom we provide an attractive working environment where people are well remunerated, developed and appreciated for what they are doing.”
It wasn’t always this way though. Howe-Ely shared that just a short while ago, things were very different. When I asked what changed, he shared: “The one thing we have focused on more than anything else is communication. We listen to what our staff is telling us and we communicate with them as much as we can.” And as we sat together, this focus became more and more apparent.
The human capital investment referred to by Howe-Ely in his response occurs throughout Medtronic Africa as a result of ongoing, quarterly assessments and open forum feedback sessions. Often leaders will implement programmes they feel are right for their people, without having carefully assessed what is truly needed – in other words leaders and managers speaking for the people instead of with the people. These investments fall flat as a result of this vacuum of information.
This is not the case here. Interestingly, the sessions Howe-Ely and Medtronic perform not only provide invaluable information for management but also result in performance acceleration of the individual.
As we got a little more personal and dug a little deeper, we concluded that Howe-Ely’s leadership essence was a need to provide direction. In addition to this, he has a natural tendency to provide this direction through supplying and seeking rich, ongoing information – is it any wonder why there has been such a focus on communication in the organisation? Digging deeper still, he shared that he has always been driven by a need to succeed which has translated into a career chasing one success after the other.
Of course, when one is as “highly competitive” as he admits to being, outsiders or even team members may misunderstand him as he insists on performance and results. To ensure this doesn’t happen, Howe-Ely works hard on the relationship between him and his team. Often he will take them away for weekend fishing expeditions or they will enjoy a Saturday cycling together. Being able to see and assess his team in these different environments, as well as further developing a deeper relationship with them, is a stroke of genius on his part. Yes, many organizations have their annual or bi-annual weekend away, but there is nothing that can come close to the invaluable information a leader can gather engaging together in informal, ongoing activities. This is a lesson to us all.
An interesting and ever growing challenge facing more and more leaders is the issue of the personal ambition and aspirations of their team members. We live in world where things move faster than ever, and expectations of advancement and movement upward and forward have not escaped this.
In response to my question: “How do you keep them?” he said simply : “They stay because they want to be here”.
A confident and impressive answer, backed by the Deloitte Best Company to Work For Survey result.
Why do they want to? Again, communication seems to be the reason. They receive time and positive attention from their peers and seniors. They are made to feel as important. And they are given opportunities to contribute and grow. This is what excellent communication does.
Often, we as leaders tend to have the perception that what we fill our time with is more important than what others might.
In an article written last year during the Marikana Lonmin mine debacle, I explored, by way of analogy, how every individual in a business/team/organisation is a vital component in driving that organisational vehicle forward. To see it any it any other way is arrogant and tends towards self aggrandisement. Pride and arrogance have no place in an extraordinary leader’s playbook.
Howe-Ely pushes this principle further by helping all in Medtronic to see their value: “Moreover, our value proposition is very strong. Think of it this way – while doing your job with Medtronic, you are actually contributing to alleviating pain, extending life and restoring health of one person around the world every four seconds! In how many places can you do that?”
A final, very impressive addition that Howe-Ely uses to solidify feelings of individual value is to hold a management lunch once a month where, at least once in the year, he personally sits with every member of staff and explores their thoughts, feelings, and opinions regarding where they want to see themselves in the next year and where they want their divisions and Medtronic to be. And at any point if anything changes, he enforces a personal open door policy.
Mike Howe-Ely has been with Medtronic for over 10 years. He has seen their South African head office staff complement expand from 60 to over 200. In the next five years, Medtronic’s goal is to improve profit margins while cutting global product costs by $1.2 billion. And by then, to see emerging markets, Medtronic Africa being regarded as such, make up 20% of sales, up from the current 10% level.
To say that Howe-Ely has some interesting times and challenges coming his way, would be putting it mildly, but after sitting with him and gaining insight into the way that he leads, we feel strongly that his and Medtronic’s futures are bright.
It is clear that his instrument of choice is solid communication. And this tool has assisted him to forge a legacy that will continue long after he has gone on to enjoy new challenges wherever he chooses to accept them.
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